The Friday rant - 25.03.2011

I got so much out of letting off a bit of fishing-related steam last week that I thought it might make sense to rant away a bit more and see where it goes. I did not for one second think that the response to my ramblings would elicit such a strong response via email and the comments section at the bottom of each blog post, but it seems that the odd bit of venting has a certain appeal in these difficult times ? Anybody who knows me will I am sure attest to my "having opinions" to put it mildly, but obviously I tend to have to hold back in the more public domains for various reasons. But whatever the case, when it comes to letting off a bit of steam about fishing, it is for the principal reason that I am in love with this great sport, and I want to do what I can to help make fishing look as good as possible. My theory has always been that the better fishing comes across, the better its future is going to be..........

Anyway, guilty as charged. I have done it, and it's something that I still regret to this day. The act of killing fish to weigh in for nothing more than a "look at me, I'm a good angler" kind of statement. Now whether that "statement" be a club medal or trophy, a photo in the local paper or a national magazine, a cash prize in a local competition or whatever, the act of killing a fish to do no more than weigh it as some kind of hero act is something that sickens me to my core. As I said, I have done it, but I look back and can't believe that I ever did. It shames me to be quite honest. I distinctly remember winning some local weekend roving competition many years ago now with a decent bull huss. It was a good fish, but what did I end up doing with it ? I took the (small) cash prize, thought I was a pretty good angler for a few days, and then ended up burying the decaying fish in the garden of my then student house. What kind of fisherman did that make me ?

Now to be honest I am not sure how much this "killing to weigh" goes on these days, and thankfully so many of the big competitions are measure and release, but a bit of it still does in certain areas. I can see both sides of the argument when it comes to the more "specimen" orientated competitions, fishing club trophies, medals etc. (fish of the month, angler of the year and that kind of stuff), but the simple fact is that deliberately killing a fish to do no more with it than weigh it is an act that we just can't defend. Put me up against anybody and I reckon I can give a pretty passionate and informed argument FOR going fishing and releasing your catch. Now I don't eat fish, but I can also argue FOR the act of going fishing to catch something to eat, indeed from a purely ethical point of view the eating of fish which you catch is arguably the easiest to defend. But imagine trying to stand there and passionately defend the fish you have just killed to look like a bit of a hero. Take that or those fish and eat them and it becomes a bit of a different matter, but what about lining up with buckets of dead fish and debating the merits of the fish's percentages or points. How on earth could anybody hope to make fishing look good like that ? Times change, attitudes change, we need to influence the up and coming generations of saltwater anglers that killing a fish should be for eating purposes only. Imagine standing around clutching dead baby dolphins and slaughtered cuddly lion cubs. What's the difference ? The problem with fish is always going to be out of sight, out of mind.

I am not simply having a go at this practise for a bit of fun. I am passionately opposed to it, and I have been for years. I left my fishing club in Plymouth many years ago because at the time they would not entertain the notion of their members being allowed to catch a fish, weigh it, and then release it, but still enter it for some kind of club award. Scales can of course be checked afterwards, but how about simply measuring certain fish and going on that like they do in so many parts of the world ? I believe that a lot has now changed, but at the time it was simply a matter of principal for me. I was way beyond actually wanting to compete with the size of my fish, but the simple fact on principal was that I could not do so (compete) if I wanted to return my fish. Which I did. And to put it in black and white, I never have a problem with an angler taking some fish to eat - but as long as it is done sensibly, plus the fish are never, ever sold (we are not commercial fishermen), and also that the "right" size fish are taken for eating. Who needs a 10lb bass to eat for example, or a 30lb conger ? Take a smaller fish and put everything else back.........

But who is to blame for any "killing to weigh" that goes on ? Well in my opinion it's far too easy to just blame the anglers. It's a collective thing I reckon. Cut out the reasons to kill a fish and then there is no point doing it for the purposes of mere "glory". If fishing magazines flat out stopped publishing any photos of fish that looked remotely dead (and especially angler plus fish in the kitchen), there's one "hero" avenue gone. If all fishing clubs refused to have any form of competitive angling that required dead fish being brought to the scales. If fish were never photographed back at the quay after spending all day in a fish box. If there was basically no kind of incentive to weigh a fish in purely for "hero" purposes, then what would be the point of chucking all ethics out of the window and carrying on with this barbaric practise ?

I guess that a certain amount comes down to whether you like to compete in your fishing. I personally don't, and I have no personal interest in the "my fish is bigger than yours" kind of thing. But on the flipside I can see exactly why many anglers do want to compete, and I wholeheartedly applaud more and more moves towards weigh and/or measure and release competitions. When anglers can not be pegged and have to roam, surely everybody has some kind of digital camera these days, whether as a camera, a phone etc. ? As I said, there can be no justification for any kind of competition that requires a fish to be killed in the name of glory, but in the long run it requires a shift in attitudes and what then becomes socially acceptable amongst anglers in order to stamp it out entirely. I have no time for the classic and quite frankly childish argument that "why should I release my fish when all they do is swim off and get caught up in a net". How many times have I heard that one ? My rant here is not about fish stocks. I passionately believe that we as anglers are the best stewards and guardians of the sea there are, and I have a fundamental problem with the small minority who cling to ethically outdated ways of going about their fishing. If we want a chance at having more and bigger fish to catch in the future, we must collectively do what we can to make our sport look the best it can. These are fish remember............they are not some kind of innate commodity that can be killed to make us feel more like a conquering hero.